[Originally posted on Dec. 12, 2013 at my Journalism II Blog]
As she attempts to negotiate the rules of online relationships, Towson University student Katie Palmer, 22, prepares for an entirely different kind of dating game.
“One guy I was talking to I thought was 23, who was really 46. I found that out by cyberstalking,” Palmer said.
The recently divorced father was using his son’s Facebook account to talk to younger women, Palmer said. That was when she realized that online dating was something you couldn’t just “jump into.”
Palmer said that she spent time googling what someone should do when they meet someone online for the first time. She has since had two successful relationships develop from social media networks.
Palmer said that the perceived shame surrounding online dating is beginning to fall away as more and more people use social networks to meet and communicate online.
“Look at the proliferation of online dating websites,” said Matthew Durington, associate professor of Anthropology at Towson University.
“I think the stigma that was attached to online dating or meeting someone online has definitely eroded,” he added.
Durington said that this shift in perspective is definitely generational, as younger people begin to use these platforms to facilitate communication.
For example, a popular new mobile application called Tinder allows users to message one another, only after users anonymously and mutually approve of one another’s profiles.
“It’s completely judging a book by its cover,” said Allyson Washington, 25, a Charm City Roller Derby girl and casual user of the application. Users are given the opportunity to view another person’s photographs, a short “profile” of interests and a user selected “tagline.”
Washington said she wasn’t having trouble with traditional dating, but that she wanted to try the application after seeing an advertisement for it on Facebook.
However, she quickly realized that the application, like other forms of online messaging, could be exploited by those looking for a quick hookup.
Washington said she had received enough simple messages outright asking for sex.
“I’m like, what? No. I just wanted to meet a nice person, but I got a lot of that and that’s why I stopped using it,” she added.
Palmer said that she has had her fair share of exploitative encounters as well.
“I keep my Facebook locked down like Fort Knox because I don’t want people I don’t know looking for me or finding me,” Palmer said.
Occasionally, she will encounter a person that will continue to bother her after she has stopped talking with them, to which she said she “ignores, deletes, and blocks” the user.
“But that’s what happens when guys are on the Internet and I guess the same thing happens with chicks too,” Palmer said.
“You know, they don’t understand the boundary because they can’t see the person’s reactions,” she added.
Despite its ability to be exploited, Professor Durington is hopeful for the future of communication, including dating, on social media platforms.
“I think they facilitate a type of interconnectedness that I’m ready to say is beneficial,” Durington said.
Durington added that he has a reclusive aunt who had been able to find a community of friends online, allowing her to open up to others in a way she had felt uncomfortable doing previously.
“I think its going to help people find relationships that they wouldn’t have found otherwise,” he said.
Palmer said her online dating has allowed her to “cross paths” with people she wouldn’t have met on a normal basis.
“Growing up in a small town, you pretty much dated anyone else that was in the small town,” Palmer said.
However, Palmer said that she treats any relationship she finds online as if it were “old school,” learning about one another by talking and dating, not researching each other’s profiles and Internet history.
On occasion though, you do have to be willing to look into someone’s past, Palmer said. She said that her screenings of potential suitors wasn’t a form of cyberstalking, but a “safety net.”
“It lets me know what I’m possibly getting into and whether I should bring a friend along or if I know, ‘Oh we’re going back to someplace,’ that’s cool,” Palmer added.
“A lot of people are very fake. A lot of people will put stuff up that they haven’t done in years,” Palmer said. “They don’t feel like they have to be honest.”
The documentary film Catfish and MTV reality show of the same name both highlight stories of people who mask as other’s online. Palmer said that she qualifies anyone who lies about anything on their profiles as a “catfish.”
“Why have someone get an attachment or connection to the person that you’re not? How is that going to work out down the road,” she said.
Although Palmer has had her successes in meeting people online, she is careful to be completely honest with herself and with others. She said that she won’t tolerate anyone who lies to her after her experience with the 46-year-old masking as his own son.
“That’s not okay with me, because you are giving someone else something that they want and that they will give attention to, but your actually someone completely different,” Palmer said.